Wednesday, July 10, 2019

'Tales' as Old as Time


So many mixed feelings about Netflix’s wildly uneven "Tales of the City" reboot, but overall I'm happy to have experienced it. (Full disclosure: After watching Episode 1, we seriously considered abandoning ship.) Loved seeing four of the original actors again. But since I hadn't read any of the followup books, it took me a while to accept sweet Mary Ann as being the villain. Was leery of the newcomers -- who seemed like a bit of a hamfisted attempt at modernizing the landscape -- but grew to like them. And thought Murray Bartlett became Michael -- he was at his mousiest when he was suddenly so vulnerable about losing his home, and then delightful when he said of his couples Scruff page: "Then put muscle daddy"(!) -- even if I could never quite get over his being just bit too young for the part. (I wonder why they reverted to Brian No. 1 but still didn't use either of the original two Mice? Are they maybe not gay in real life so they wanted to be more authentic? Might Tuc Watkins have been a better choice?)


Mouse 1 and Mouse 2, now-ish

More than anything else, though, the infamous "Dinner Party" -- a wonderful nod to the young Mouse's awkward experience in the original -- was what made the whole thing worthwhile. 



Yes, it was heavy-handed and uncomfortable to watch. But the not-so-grand dames at the table finally said what needed to be said to Generations Y and Z.



My feeling is this: If we are all part of the LGBTQ community -- taking our punches and props, experiencing our highs and our lows, together -- then we all have access to terms that are off-limits to outsiders. Don't agree? I grew up being bullied and called a queer on the playground and I don't remember the new generation asking me if I was OK with "our" reclaiming the term. For those who say both sides had valid points I say this: Do you really think Ben's telling those guys anything they don't already know? What they don’t need is some patronizing pill lecturing them for letting loose and camping it up in the privacy of their own home. (Read the room, queen.) Now be quiet and pass the potatoes.  My grade: B minus


Damian and I even made it to Barbary Lane over the weekend! 

16 comments:

JimmyD said...

Hmmm... I thought the brilliance of the dinner party scene was that both generations were right and wrong. But! We live in a right OR wrong world so...
However... hearing Stephen Spinella say, "Fuck your 'Angels in America' was particularly delightful!

Jeffery said...

I watched it one episode at a time. Took a little getting use to. Ultimately I did like it. I was happy to see Paul Gross back as Brian. I liked his Brian better. As for Mouse, Murray seems a little young to play the part. Either of the other two actors who played Mouse would have been a better choice. The dinner scene made me think about how younger people think about being LGBT now.

Matthew said...

I didn't get that at all from the dinner scene, which is why it was good, I guess (and the rest of the entire series, not so much) — it was a mixed bag. To me, while yes, the older queens were right to feel they should be respected and it was understandable they don't want to be lectured to, they were still trashing "trannies" for laughs behind their backs, not exactly the same thing as reclaiming "fag" or "queer" etc. And I was disappointed that Charlie's character didn't say what the said to his BF in front of them. I found those guys pretty insufferable and not at all charming/harmlessly old-fashioned/etc. As for the series — the timing was jarringly off, the twist was obvious and poorly revealed (in an almost camp way) and overall, it didn't have the whimsy of the first iteration — it was like when they brought "The Brady Bunch" back and everyone had gotten divorced. I liked most of the actors, tho.

Transliteration said...

While most gay men will stand in solidarity of every group within the LGBT community, we should be permitted some leeway when we speak about our own. Because the term "tranny" can include everything from transsexual, transgender, transvestite to simply cross dressers, it will continue to be the fodder of awkward conversation and nuanced language. It's not reasonable to demand 100% sugar coated compliance when it comes to acceptable approved jargon. A specific language which has, in fact, been definitively approved and endorsed by no one. And on another note, I don't know how anyone could sit through that boring dinner party.

AaronSF said...

The writers of this new "Tales of the City" seemed constrained by having to address political correctness at every turn rather than creating believable characters and letting them live out their stories. Trans, check. Trans actors playing trans characters, check. Transitioning difficulties, check. Cross-generational relationships, check. Mixed-race relationships, check. All races and ethnicities represented, check. Etc. I usually enjoy seeing all facets of our amazingly diverse community represented, but in this series the need to represent everyone took precedence over character development, which makes for and uninteresting and not particularly realistic show. Almost every character was teetering on the edge of stereotype, and the actors struggled to bring depth to these cardboard creations.

The dinner party scene was lazy and badly conceived. The whole idea that Ben would call these guys out for their nasty use of the word "tranny" and then get dressed down for it struck me as ludicrous. And these dinner party guests that seemed to have just stepped off the set of "Boys in the Band." Lazy. I'm their age and I don't know anyone nearly that bitter toward younger gays. Heaven forbid the writers allow for a more subtle and nuanced conversation with more subtle and nuanced characters!

Chris said...

I saw this the same as JimmyD — especially the Angels in America reference. To me, it was very clear that both of these groups had valid positions that were perhaps exaggerated a little for the sake of drama. I saw so many gay men that I love represented in all sides of this conversation.

Kenneth M. Walsh said...

EDITOR'S NOTE: Some great insights here. I've updated the post slightly to address some of what has been brought up.

Seth said...

Putting aside that I thought the dinner party scene was fabulous and very well done, viewers of the first Tales of the City should have enjoyed as I did the obviously intentional parallels with the Mouse-Dr. Jon A-gay dinner party in the first series which gave the scene an extra energy. And having friends on both sides of this generational and class divide and being part of the sandwich generation in between, I thought it was spot on.

Johnny Diaz said...

That dinner conversation really jumped out at me with force from the TV set. It was so well written and provided generational insights. You could feel the tension among the guests and Murray caught in the middle.

J Prof said...

After watching the first episode, I got bored. Now that I watched the clip of the dinner scene above, I'm glad I didn't watch the rest of the series. I'm so tired of the white privilege claim. Sure, I agree that the average white person is privileged in comparison with the average black person of the same social class. But pointing out white privilege doesn't do any meaningful political work; it's simply an acknowledge that racism exists. I'm more interested in what people and/or the government can do to effectively combat racism. It's like the debate over climate change. You may want to insist that climate change is real, but the debate shouldn't stop there. The more important question is what are you/we going to do to reduce climate change?

Also, the other problem with the "accusation" of white privilege is that it's divisive and makes some white people defensive. So talking about white privilege (as opposed to racism/anti-racism) is a strategic error, I think, if you want to try to win over white voters to support progressive politics.

And then the concept of privilege leads to the type of oppression Olympics we see in the dinner conversation in the clip above (the discussion about gay men dying of AIDS versus the oppression and death/murder of Black men). This is not a politically fruitful debate.

Finally, one of the other reasons I detest the concept of white privilege is because it's a discourse of the elite. All too often the people who call out white privilege (which includes white people as well as people of color) are the same ones who love to mock poor white people as clueless hillbillies who deserve all of the misfortune that befalls them after they vote for Trump and the GOP screws them over economically.

Atlrobyn said...

I read the entire series and watched the original movie... I want to see the new version.. Thank you for the conversation Kenneth! Cheers! Robyn Jackson aka @atlrobyn

Danny in WeHo said...

I'm a huge TALES OF THE CITY fan and have read all but the last book (Too afraid of what might happen)... the instant the new show started I had to pause and decipher what I was feeling and realized that, when I watched the first series it was 1993 looking back at the 70's while the new one is happening now. Immediately I was struck by the loss of charming nostalgia. Once I made that adjustment, it was easier to accept the feel of the newer story telling. I'm guessing the show is more appealing if you recall a lot of the original shows/books and spot the call backs and parallels. I'm only half way through the show, but I'm entertained enough and willing to forgive the flaws.

transcendental said...

I read an interview with actor who played Jake. He said there was a serious conversation about whether Olympia Dukakis should be brought back to reprise her role as Mrs. Madrigal.

demc7 said...

I don't have Netflix, but doubt I would have watched. The first 6 books were WONDERFUL- but I haven't cared for any of the last 3, #s7-9. This series is based on the 8th I think, Maryann in Autumn....the last 3 were such a significant down turn from the originals, I couldn't watch- a little like beating a dead horse or trying to capitalize on new found popularity.

Unknown said...

I did love the dinner party scene - I think it was my favorite bit. Mary Ann as the villain was right on how her character was in the middle of the book series, I expected that. In many ways - Tales of the City has always been about Mary Ann's journey - even when she wasn't a character in the books. I kind of saw her coming back

I agree about Murray Bartletts as Mouse. He was a perfect Michael and so totally embraced the character that I could see him as the next evolution of Paul Hopkins (Although I still live for Marcus D'Amico in those tight-whities). As far as Michael goes this is the more mature Michael from the latter books. Rather than Ben though, I was hoping to see Thack on the screen. Thack always seemed much more fun - The Triangle shaped trellis with Pink Clematis, I always wanted to steal that idea for one of my homes.

The part I hated was the Anna transformation. There was no need for this contrived anti-hero BS. We didn't need another broken Luke Skywalker. Anna's journey in the novels was enough. To have seen Olympia Dukakis and crew brink that to life would have a glorious treat. Instead we are treated to what - Anna as a traitor to her friends? If we need to see Anna at her Lowes how about watching her struggle with decision to leave her family and Andy behind to be her own woman?

Instead we get this milquetoast millennial wanna be auteur blackmailing Anna so she can tear down Barbary Lane on film? Weak.

Unknown said...

I loved the original books - I discovered them in my 20's and ate them up. While people my age were engaged in Melrose Place, I discovered 28 Barbary Lane in the Tales of the City Omnibus. I didn't mind seeing Mary Ann cast as the "villain" - I expected that from her story arc in the book. As much as anything else the story has been about Mary Ann's journey from naive waif to urbanite to wealthy sub-urbanite. Her story in some ways echos the city itself.

I loved Murray Bartlett as Michael. I could totally se him as the next evolution of Paul Hopkins' Michael. Lets be honest though, I will always live for Marcus D'Amico in those tighty-whities :). As far as Ben - I did love to see him get shut up in that party scene. I was hoping, though, that the husband wed get to see was Thack. Thack was always more interesting than Ben in my opinion. I have wanted to steal thanks triangle shaped trellis covered in Pink Clematis in every home I've owned.

What I hated was the whole Anna as the broken heroine plot line. We didn't need another Luke Skywalker anti-hero BS. There is enough struggle, drama, and Broken-ness in Anna's story as it is without having her blackmailed by some milquetoast, wannabe auteur who wants to tear down Barbary Lane on film. Theres no way Anna would have given in to that - in her words "I was a weasel of a man, but I'm one helluva nice woman". If you wanted to show how broken Anna could be - how about the decision to turn her back on her wife and daughter and leave to become her own woman? Any of the elements of "The Days of Anna Madrigal"? The way they went with that was just weak.

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